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Cowboys hot topic: In Andy Dalton we, um, trust?

He isn’t Dak, but Andy Dalton may be closer than you realize.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start off by talking a little personal philosophy. There’s a Bruce Springsteen song called “Glory Days” that is sort of an antithesis to me. It’s all about people who look backwards at better times because they are so depressed or forlorn about the present and future. For whatever reason, that is just not me. My focus is always on what is coming, and frankly one of the main things that keeps me energized is waking up every day and wondering just what, good or bad, is happening both personally and in the larger world. The past is past, and cannot be changed. I have a few good and bad memories, but I’m far more into what can be done now and how it might play out.

So just what in the name of Aunt Frannie’s hidden bottle of bourbon does that have to do with the Dallas Cowboys? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, there is a certain air of despair and gloom in the fan base. It is reflected in some media coverage. The devastating injury to Dak Prescott makes many think this is now a truly lost season. Tanking is being discussed openly. This is despite the team having sole possession of first place in the raging dumpster fire seriously underperforming NFC East.

And it strikes me as really underestimating the Red Rifle, current starting quarterback Andy Dalton.

I’m not saying in any form or fashion that Dalton is better than Prescott. The latter is simply an amazing talent and a truly inspirational leader for his team. There are reasons that Dalton was the backup for him. But when you are dealing with having to roll with the backup after an injury deprives you of your preferred starter, the real question is just how much of a dropoff in performance you can expect, and how much the team has to adjust to use him.

Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore made a somewhat controversial remark about that.

That was met with a lot of disbelief. We all know how mobile Prescott was, and the way he could make some incredible throws on the move. Dallas has a patchwork offensive line that now features two rookies, one a UDFA at right tackle, and a second-year UDFA filling in for Tyron Smith at LT. Obviously there is a strong need for a QB that can evade pass rushers and make the kinds of throws Prescott could, and there was no way a reject from the Cincinnati Bengals could hope to step in and keep this damaged and leaking ship afloat.

Well, the very observant and perceptive Bob Sturm has a different view of the situation.

Those were two of the best throws made by any quarterback in the league the past week, and they were on back-to-back plays with under a minute left to go in a tie game. They were both to Michael Gallup, indicating an immediate and badly needed chemistry. Dalton came into the game cold, and while he had a very rough start to things, with the fumble that led to a New York Giants touchdown and a sack, he didn’t take long to get his bearings and pull out a badly needed win. Frankly, he might have saved the season by not letting the team sink to 1-4 with the attendant doubts it could have engendered.

As has already been mentioned in these parts, Dalton’s lack of success with Cincinnati, both in repeated one-and-dones in the playoffs and the lack of winning in his last few seasons, may have been much more about the surrounding cast and staff than his own talent. While he has that depleted offensive line to deal with, he is now surrounded by a very impressive group of skill players. He also hooked up with emerging star CeeDee Lamb for an important completion, and Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson are very good options he will no doubt be working well with. Dalton Schultz has been a much better replacement for the injured Blake Jarwin than we could have hoped. When the running game is needed, he has Ezekiel Elliott as his lead horse, and he looked a lot like prime Zeke against the Giants. It is not at all an exaggeration to say Dalton is now surrounded by more offensive talent than he ever had at one time with the Bengals.

Moore has also been looking like what we wanted at offensive coordinator. The passing game in particular has been highly productive, albeit in some situations where that was all the team could really lean on.

It is a very small sample size, but at the moment Dalton has given some intriguing evidence that he is indeed able to fill in and be much closer to the level of player Prescott was than we imagined. Going into the season, many argued that he was the best backup QB in the league, and that may well be the case. If he can just get that center exchange right with Tyler Biadasz, who is also in a learn on the job situation, and protect the ball when passing, he has both the skill and the help he needs to thrive.

Based on the season so far, the real determinant of how the Cowboys do will likely be the defense, with a bit of special teams as well. In that respect, the Giants win offers some more encouragement. There is the fact that they are one of the worst teams in the league, and Dallas was going up against an offense planned and called by Jason Garrett. He is of course extremely familiar to Moore and many of the players. The words “predictable” and “conservative” are always in play for Garrett’s offense. However, the noticeable improvement in the defense was not just a big boost for their confidence. It showed that just maybe Mike Nolan is able to make the badly needed adjustments to get them playing better. If they live up to their end of the bargain, it looks like Dalton is ready to do his part.

Yes, the terrible injury to Prescott was a gut-wrenching moment. Yes, the team would be better off with him still healthy. But that is done, and nothing can change it. It’s time to move forward, and this is now Dalton’s team for the remainder of the year. One thing he unquestionably brings to the table is a lot of experience, including dealing with some very shaky offensive lines. If you have to call on the QB2 to move up to QB1, it is hard to imagine a more hopeful case than this. It’s time to face forward and quit dreaming about the past.

He’s our quarterback now, and we are rooting for him. Let’s hope the Cowboys shock the league.

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